Tag Archives: Yousef Hatlani

LIVE: Clipping.

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By Hollister Dixon // Photos by Yousef Hatlani

It’s a difficult task to try to categorize Clipping. Their closest well-known contemporary is Death Grips, but only because both are experimental hip-hop acts, though boiling both bands down to just that sells them short. Since their self-released debut, Midcity, they’ve built and perfected a sound that feels fresh and unique by striving to infuse power electronics and noise music with genuine songsmanship, all hinged around the intersection between the organic sounds created by producers Jonathan Snipes and William Hutson and the laser-precise rapping abilities of Daveed Diggs. His flow feels inhuman, which work perfectly with the harsh and often beautiful landscapes Snipes and Hutson create.

The first time I saw Clipping perform was in 2013, in a parking lot in the July heat in Seattle. It was Sub Pop’s 25th anniversary festival, the Silver Jubilee, and Clipping were there to serve as an announcement that they had been signed to the label. While the fiercely urban settings of Clipping’s music made an Airport Way parking lot a fantastic place to see the band, there’s a lot of subtlety and artfulness in what the band does, and as a result those subtleties were lost in exactly the kind of urbanscape their characters walk through every day.

This time, I got to see them at Holocene, a room I rarely visit but greatly enjoy because the room just sounds so damn good. From the moment the band began “Inside Out” from 2013’s CLPPNG, it was obvious that this was not only the right room for the band’s sound, but the right crowd to appreciate it. I know few fans of the band, so getting to see them performing to a sold-out crowd rapping along with every word was a treat. The band’s last album, Splendor & Misery, is an immaculately produced record full of cold, sterile environments – most likely intentional, as the album is one that takes place in the vacuum of space – and it was almost a relief to be able to get a reasonable amount of the detail during the six-song suite of songs from the album they played.

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My biggest worry going into the show was that the material from Splendor & Misery would feel difficult to enjoy when blended with the band’s other music. The album functions substantially better as an album than as several disconnected songs, as they’re built around a single story. Giving the album a long stretch in the spotlight was the best way to handle this, allowing those songs to exist together as intended, bolstered on either end by songs from the band’s other works. The band have crafted the Splendor & Misery suite to function as a great piece of their set, though, starting with a teaser of “The Breach” before going into “Wake Up” and “Air ‘Em Out”, which may become a set staple for the band if the crowds continue to react to it like Holocene’s did. My greatest disappointment here is the (most likely necessary) exclusion of “All Black”, though the almost acapella nature of the song would likely make for an underwhelming concert performance.

The other side of the Splendor suite was full of hits. “Work Work”? You got it. “Summertime”? Bring it on. “Body & Blood”? Of course. Diggs spat fire on “Taking Off”, and even utilised former collaborator (and show opener) Baseck to do his part from Midcity cut “Bout.That”. Reports from friends who saw them at other shows suggest that Diggs is a little on the rusty side with the band’s older material, but it was hard to see any creakiness here. They felt much more polished than they did during my first trip into their world, but it was still a brilliant trip.

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LIVE: Julian Casablancas+The Voidz, Crystal Ballroom, Portland, OR

Julian Casablancas

Julian Casablancas+The Voidz // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

 

By Jacob Gellman // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

I was skeptical about Julian Casablancas+The Voidz, and perhaps with good reason. Aside from a handful of songs, the Strokes’ side projects have always failed to capture the magic of the original band – two solo albums from Albert Hammond Jr. were underwhelming, while one from Casablancas met critical acclaim but failed to stick with fans.

Here is the golden measuring stick for a famous musician’s side project: in a blind taste test, would you like the music if you didn’t already know the artist’s reputation? Too often have I seen otherwise rational human beings defend a bomb of an album because their favorite musician wrote it.

So in light of the negative reviews for the latest Casablancas album Tyranny, and knowing my own golden rule… I of course refused an invitation to see him live at the Crystal Ballroom. NOT. I nabbed that invite like a dog laps up the food that fell off your plate. Come on, we’re talking about the frontman for the 21st century’s greatest garage rock band.

Connan Mockasin

Connan Mockasin // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

To say that show-opener Connan Mockasin and his backing band were dressed eccentrically is an understatement. All of them wore extremely baggy pants; the backing guitarist was fitted in what looked like pajamas and a fur hat; and Mockasin himself (a.k.a. Connan Tant Hosford) was fully dressed as a farmer. “I know what you’re all thinking,” Hosford drawled to the audience in an American Southern accent, “What’s a farmer like me doing up here?” Bizarre indeed, considering the band hails from New Zealand via London. Knowing nothing about Mockasin, I was completely fooled, until he started to address the audience in his actual Kiwi accent. “Where’s he from?” my companion asked me. “England? Australia?” I replied. Sorry, New Zealanders.

Mockasin is a musician who has made the most of his connections. His music has only once broken charts in New Zealand despite strong reviews for his work, yet he has had the fortune of touring with Radiohead in 2012 and now Julian Casablancas+The Voidz. The band’s confidence is palpable, as Mockasin leads the audience through bird-like call and responses before dropping into smooth psychedelic rock.

Connan Mockasin

Connan Mockasin // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

At the risk of publishing a trite comparison, I can best explain Connan Mockasin’s music as a soulful, funk-folk, modern Pink Floyd. The ingredients are all there: the rhythm guitar picks through psychedelic chords while Mockasin solos high on the neck, choosing either a clean setting or a wah; the synths achieve a vintage organ aesthetic, while the bass explores pentatonic lines.

The band’s control over dynamics is impeccable. Rarely have I seen a group explore quiet space so effectively; songs slow and speed, crescendo and drop to a silence. The anchor is Mockasin’s backing drummer, who often is the last breath in a vacuum of empty space before the band surges to fuller sounds. These songs challenge the audience, but the crowd follows them through these silences, focused in anticipation.

The focal point, of course, is Mockasin’s guitar work. The bulk of the music is devoted to his solos, exploring creative slides and high riffs. The most atmospheric song is their closer, when the rhythm guitarist jumps on keys to deliver an emotive synth part, reminiscent of Radiohead’s “Idioteque” but infused with psychedelia.

If these descriptions sound bizarre, it’s because the music truly is. In a world where bands increasingly call themselves psychedelic, Connan Mockasin stands out as a musician who actually is psychedelic, in the truest sense of the genre.

Julian Casablancas

Julian Casablancas+The Voidz // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

The secret of the latest Casablancas solo project is that it isn’t a solo project at all. It’s Julian Casablancas+The Voidz. The “backing” band is so important they don’t even put a space between Casablancas, the + sign, and The Voidz. They’re not a touring band; they are the band. And on this night they featured so prominently, I was far more impressed by their musicianship than by Casablancas himself, and you can pin that on their sheer talent as a group. The Voidz’ arrangements on Tyranny form such complex and muddy polyphony, and the music is comprised of such technically difficult instrumental parts, that anything less than perfect would unravel those songs in a heartbeat.

“Father Electricity” is a prime example, a song with little foundation to support the band’s cohesion. Rather than providing a stable drum and bass floor, Jake Bercovici snakes through jazzy bass lines, while Alex Carapetis delivers frantic jungle beats. Add to that two unhinged guitar parts by Amir Yaghmai and Jeramy “Beardo” Gritter, and a band of lesser skill would fall apart a minute in. But not The Voidz. They stop and start on a dime, and even with Beardo’s pained expressions they make it look effortless. While Julian’s voice is a steady baritone presence, the tight and mathematical execution by The Voidz steals the show.

Somehow, I shouldn’t be surprised; Casablancas has never been a frontman that steals the spotlight. On the contrary, the Crystal Ballroom’s lights more prominently featured Beardo and Yaghmai, leaving Casablancas “under cover of darkness” and frustrating our photographer Yousef Hatlani, who faced difficulty snapping images of the singer’s shadowed visage. It didn’t help that Casablancas’s main stage move is to grip the microphone, covering his face with his own fist and his long hair; nor did his tendency to turn away from the audience during musical interludes, flashing his black and red “Houston Basketball” jacket to the crowd.

Julian Casablancas

Julian Casablancas+The Voidz // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

It may not make for a good photo, but that presence is precisely what I love about Casablancas. During music breaks, he does not dance obnoxiously or steal the show; he is himself. He relishes in the music around him. His voice is not necessarily the focal point of the music, but rather a part of it, a texture to blend with the instruments. Only once does he engage the crowd, when a girl cries out, “Julian!” His response: “Yeeees?”

Rarely am I so moved by a concert. The set featured the last-ever performance of “Instant Crush,” the Daft Punk collaboration with Casablancas, as well as a crowd-pleasing cover of the Strokes’ “Ize of the World.” The band deservedly earned two encores, closing with “Human Sadness,” an emotional rock ballad to cap off a flawless night.

So perhaps I had good reason to doubt the latest Strokes side project. But The Voidz (feat. Julian Casablancas) quickly proved that, given the right mix of musicians, a side project can be so much more.

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Photos: Slowdive, Low – Crystal Ballroom, 11/5/14

The Crystal Ballroom was host to one of 2014’s best and most anticipated shows last night when Minnesotan Slowcore legends Low and newly reunited Shoegaze darlings Slowdive played to a capacity crowd, seemingly suspending 1,300 fans – many new and many old – in a dream (for at least a few hours.) From the outset of Slowdive’s performance, it was obvious that their songs not only sounded timeless but also pristine and pointedly affecting, with many attendees recounting how many times they shed a tear over the course of the evening. Suffice it to say, music rarely sounds this good. Find our photos of the evening over on our Facebook page, or click on the photo below.

Slowdive // Photo by Yousef Hatlani

Slowdive // Photo by Yousef Hatlani

 

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Photos: The Kills, Baby In Vain – Wonder Ballroom, 10/28/14

Anglo-American Blues-Punk duo The Kills dropped by the Wonder Ballroom last night – their first time back to Portland since 2011, when they played similarly attended sold-out or near sold-out shows in both May and September (also at the Wonder and then at the Crystal Ballroom for Musicfest NW, respectively.) Suffice it to say, the group brought a world-class energy  and fruitful tension to a crowd fastened for more and more; this band can play any size stage and fill it to the brim with bass-heavy, sexual voodoo and a fair dose of rock star panache. Our very own Yousef Hatlani was front and center. Find his pics over on our Facebook, or click on the photo below.

The Kills // Photo by Yousef Hatlani

The Kills // Photo by Yousef Hatlani

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PHOTOS: DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist – Roseland Theater – 10/07/14

The Renegades of Rhythm tour stopped by Portland last night, bringing a chunk of Afrika Bambaataa’s 40,000 LP-strong record collection to the Roseland Theater for one night only – in the hands of DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist, no less (choice quote from Shadow: “Please bear in mind, the music you will be hearing is not from just any copy. It is from the original copy that all [Bambaataa’s] recordings were made from.”)

The result was, without a doubt, one of the funnest shows of the year so far, as both DJ’s charged through countless crucial Funk, Electro, Disco, Hip Hop and Rock cuts, forming an aural representation of modern pop music history (and, as Cut Chemist pointed out at the end of the set, our own personal histories by extension.) Our very own Yousef Hatlani was there to document the night. To check out his full album, head on over to our Facebook page.

DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist // Photo by Yousef Hatlani

DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist // Photo by Yousef Hatlani

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LIVE: Slint, Crystal Ballroom, Portland, OR

Slint // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

By Hollister Dixon // Photos by Yousef Hatlani

Before we begin, let’s talk a little bit about the history of Slint: Existing for six years in the late 80s/early 90s, Louisville, KY’s Slint (made up of Brian McMahan, David Pajo, Britt Walford, Ethan Buckler, and Todd Brashear) lasted just long enough to put out three releases (1989’s Tweez, and 1991’s Spiderland, as well as an untitled EP, which came out after they’d already broken up) and call it quits.In the time since, however, Spiderland took on a life of its own, proving to have a longevity that was almost unpredictable. The band’s mix of not-quite-post-rock and not-quite-math-rock influenced an incredible amount of bands, to the point where they’ve been cited as the catalyst for both post rock and math rock. In 2005, the band set off on a reasonably sized tour, and have played music sporadically to adoring crowds ever since.

Despite the fact that their music seems like an ill fit for a live experience, it seemed absolutely necessary to get the chance to pay homage to this band. And it felt fantastic, for the most part. More on that in a bit.

First off, let’s talk a little bit about Tropical Trash. Now, I am a very big fan of noise rock bands, and I have nothing but respect for them. However, the Louisville, KY band seemed to have missed an important lesson about the nature of noise rock: if it lacks structure, it will fail. This is a style of music that requires a specific kind of balance, where you pit the joy of sonic dissonance up against the joy of songwriting, and see what comes out of the battle. But while that battle is often a graceful ballet (see: Sonic Youth, a band as obsessed with cacophony as they were with fascinating song structures), it turns into an ugly, one-sided beating if you forego form and set your course directly towards noise. Their entire set felt like a group of people lazily forming pieces made entirely of unrelated notes, and it wasn’t until maybe three songs from the end that I heard something that actually sounded like a song. Before that, it was anybody’s guess what I was hearing, but it didn’t sound like music to me at all, is just sounded like a band that couldn’t be bothered to care much about what they were playing. It was disheartening, because when they did play songs, it sounded fantastic. Better luck next time, I suppose.

Tropical Trash // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

So before we talk about Slint‘s performance: let’s talk about crowds. As a very frequent showgoer, I am a big admirer of great atmosphere within a crowd, and when a band like Slint comes back to live music, and plays your city, it’s probably for the best to get them the love and respect they deserve. However, it seems like the crowd that evening was unaware of this unspoken rule, as they took the set as license to talk very loudly, mosh for no discernable reason, and generally tarnish the experience. One such person (you know who you are, guy in the Thrasher shirt) was bad enough that, when he tried to drunkenly apologize to me, I felt compelled to let him know that he was ruining the night for me. This inspired him to be even louder, heckled the band, insulted Portland’s crowds, and acted foolish enough that even his friend told him that he needed to take a step back. That guy left four songs before the end, so I hope he’s happy having missed “Good Morning, Captain”. As for the rest of the crowd, who treated Slint like a mid-week opener: for shame, people.

Now, enough about the crowd. What about the band? For one, I spoke with FOTR’s photographer/co-host before the band took the stage, and I pointed out that, if the band’s sound mix was wrong, the entire show would be completely ruined. Pristine production is the name of the game here, where no notes feel superfluous, and every piece needs to be in lockstep with the rest. How was this part? The short answer: it was fantastic. But the long answer: the band’s singer/guitarist, Brian McMahan, must know that this is true, as he took it upon himself to act as the band’s sound engineer as well as performer, often taking a time out to walk over to the on-stage mixing board (something I’ve never seen onstage before) and fiddle with things, until it was just right. The effect was incredibly noticeable: by allowing a band built around the balance of sound to do what they needed to to maintain that balance, you get a performance that’s enough to leave anybody awestruck. It was, without a doubt, one of the best sounding performances I’ve ever gotten to see. This was paired with an incredibly understated use (or non-use) of the stage’s lighting, opting to present themselves as distinguished silhouettes most of the time, only somewhat visible in the half light of the Ballroom. Compared to the weekend’s other two shows and their lighting (more on those later), this was the most moody, atmospheric set I’ve ever seen, and that’s without even getting into the band’s performance itself.

Slint // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

As for the band, they were incredibly tight, almost absurdly so. Each member of the band fell into a perfect groove with every other member, allowing for an impressive state of serene soundscapes, all of which were incredibly easy to get lost in. And while the last band I saw that was so capable of this did so in a way that made it all feel unnecessary (looking at you, Mazzy Star), Slint’s strengths lie in that unwavering perfection, providing an incredible case for the power of a band sounding exactly like the record while performing the material live. They played every song from Spiderland, and each one sounded better than the last, up until the punishingly beautiful conclusion/Spiderland closer “Good Morning, Captain”, which wrapped up with a wave of reverb bigger and more punishing than anything I’ve ever experienced. I would have been perfectly happy if the band had walked offstage and ended the evening without an encore, as the performance of that song topped anything that could have come after it. And, in truth, it did; the band came back for two songs (“Pat” and “Rhoda” from Tweez), both of which felt like song sketches more than anything else, and it felt strange to end the night with those two tracks, after the blistering beauty of “Good Morning, Captain”. As far as I’m concerned, this was the show’s one and only misstep, though this is a minor trifle.

Despite a terribly irreverent crowd and a funky encore, it’s hard to figure out a way this performance could have felt better. This was a rare moment in time where I felt truly awestruck by the discipline and talent of a band, and despite occasional moments of blistering guitar work, I never felt compelled to thrash around like I normally would at another show. Slint are a band that don’t need that. They’re a band that deserves to be heard live with your head bowed and your eyes closed, while taking in every single note that fell from their perfect songs.

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LIVE: Skinny Puppy, Wonder Ballroom, Portland, OR

By Yousef Hatlani – All Photos by Yousef Hatlani

I discovered Skinny Puppy ten years ago. An impressionable 16 year-old at the time, the sounds characteristic of Industrial music had been knocking around in my head in 2004 for a couple years—thanks to positive first impressions of Atari Teenage Riot and Static-X (neither of which have aged very well since). Naturally, it didn’t take very long for the immersive world of Nine Inch Nails to completely enrapture my attention with their sonically dense catalog of meticulously detailed aesthetics—every distorted beat, every synth line, every lyric, every piece of artwork and every frame of every video seemed fastidiously thought out and perfectly executed. This was something I could really sink my teeth into. It was genuine and inspiring.

That summer, I decided to check out a name that had followed Nine Inch Nails around every turn where they’d been mentioned: the recently reunited Skinny Puppy, who had put out their first new record in almost a decade just a couple months prior: the politically aware and musically accessible The Greater Wrong of the Right, the band’s first album without key members Dave “Rave” Ogilvie and Dwayne Goettel, whose death in 1996 broke the group up for four years. It was in them that I had finally found another group with the same engrossing qualities as Trent Reznor’s output—the kind of discipline that greatly augmented my understanding of attention to detail, my overall appreciation of electronic music and of music in general.

I then tried visiting their earlier output—namely 1990’s Too Dark Park, but it seemed too abrasive for me at the time; too many harsh electronics, too much blood in their videos, too many screams. “Is that a dead dog?”, I thought. “Oh god, this is too creepy for me. I’ll stick with The Downward Spiral and The Greater Wrong of the Right”’ It wasn’t until the summer of 2008, after I’d turned 21, that suddenly everything clicked—the same summer I discovered many integral indie bands like Cocteau Twins, the Replacements, Hüsker Dü and the Jesus Lizard. But it was Skinny Puppy that had really rocked my world.

You could realistically say it was that first drumbeat in the song “Dogshit”, the opening track off of their 1987 opus VIVIsectVI, or even the first time I heard the chorus to the band’s signature track “Worlock” from 1989’s Rabies. This was something I knew existed, but did not know could be accomplished so perfectly and passionately. The shards of distortion yielded so many brash emotions and seemingly bypassed what could be expressed with traditional instrumentation. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard before—and apparently, unlike anything a lot of people had heard before; Skinny Puppy were not very popular with my friends, nor almost anyone I went to college with and especially not with my own family. I once put on “Convulsion,” the opening track to Too Dark Park, and my mom thought my computer was dying. I can understand. But this was my own special thing; it enabled much introspection, an ability to feel centered and focused. I listened to a lot of music, but Skinny Puppy was my band—and everyone who knew me knew that. To top it off, I later bought every album of theirs on CD, vinyl AND tape (not uncommon for dedicated fans, I later learned).

Skinny Puppy merch at the Wonder Ballroom. Photo by Yousef Hatlani.Skinny Puppy merch at the Wonder Ballroom //Photo credit: Yousef Hatlani 

Fast forward to the Wonder Ballroom on March 2nd, 2014. I had already seen Skinny Puppy at the Wonder in November 2009, and have also since seen founding member cEvin Key twice solo and vocalist Nivek Ogre with his band, ohGr, twice—having seized literally every opportunity to see them when passing through Portland, OR. This is also not an uncommon practice for hardcore fans (and there are a lot of them). But back in ’09, Skinny Puppy’s draw surprisingly did not seem to be that strong—even a scalper outside the venue complained about the lack of people coming to the show, compared to their stop in Portland during 2004’s reunion tour. Fans were nonetheless enthralled and created an emphatic atmosphere, making for a great show. But Sunday night’s show at the Wonder was a different story.

This time around, the venue was completely sold out. No extra tickets. No more spots on the list. Nada. Sorry, dude (a phrase I had to throw around quite a few times while waiting outside.) Fans waited in the wind and rain, many of them first timers, for their chance to see these Industrial titans—icons of the genre, respected by all. This apparent surge in popularity can be attributed to a lot of things, namely the release of two albums since their last Portland show: 2011’s hanDover and 2013’s Weapon. This is also a band that has now been around for over thirty years, and several aspects of their sound have infiltrated the tastes of young, curious listeners with an ear for both the Avant Garde, early electronic music and more mainstream acts thanks to the success of artists like Nine Inch Nails, Aphex Twin and even Tool, who have name checked Skinny Puppy as an influence more than once. How much of this really happened between 2009 and 2014? Who knows? What was immediately evident was that there was finally a lot of love for Skinny Puppy going around, and the circumstances are more of a curiosity to me than a focus.

BAAL // Photo credit: Yousef Hatlani.

The first act of the night was three piece Japanese Industrial Metal band BAAL (apparently pronounced “Bale.” Yes, like Christian Bale.) Though they won the already amped audience over quite easily with their brandishing of makeup, backing tracks, seven string guitar chugs and emphatic shouting, the music itself was not entirely dissimilar to that of Slipknot or Fear Factory—and one could argue that those bands still have more diversity. But that might also be what put them over so well, since the crowd was enjoying it, after all—albeit circumstantially. Enthusiasm? They’ve got it; they were very appreciative and happy to be there, and were certainly very professional. But the group needed much more variety to truly maintain the crowd’s attention.

Following this, the stage was set and smoke enveloped the room as anticipation quickly built; there were concerns about Ogre’s health, as he revealed in a post to Skinny Puppy’s Facebook page earlier in the day that he had suffered from food poisoning prior to the band’s show in Seattle the previous evening and was left unable to perform an encore that night—the first instance of its kind in the band’s 30+ year career. Nevertheless, he assured fans that the show must go on.

Of course, had you been unaware of this, I doubt that you would have guessed it was the case that night; treading and jerking theatrically in one of his signature/sinister costumes (while wielding a Bowie knife and an umbrella made to look like the nuclear power symbol), Ogre delivered his distinctive intensity amidst a backdrop of masterfully arranged projections and a giant fallout shelter box. Founding member/keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist cEvin Key and touring drummer Justin Bennett have also never sounded better or looked more enthused.

Skinny Puppy frontman Nivek Ogre, donning his first costume of the night. Photo by Yousef Hatlani.Skinny Puppy frontman Nivek Ogre // Photo credit: Yousef Hatlani

The group played for about an hour and a half, offering a set that—for the first time—consisted almost equally of newer songs and choice cuts from their classic oeuvre. Fan favorites “First Aid,” “The Choke,” “Deep Down Trauma Hounds: and “Hexonxonx: were all played—the latter seeing Ogre drinking and spitting out illuminated green water into the crowd, a reference to the song’s subject matter about oil mega-corporation Exxon. The group also performed their timeless track and gateway drug ‘Worlock,’ a song I’ve listened to a million fucking times but has never aged a wink and still sounded better that night than I’ve literally ever heard. Newer songs included “illisiT,” “wornin,” “plasiCage”—all from new album Weapon, as well as “Village” from 2011’s hanDover, and those took on a powerful new form in the live setting as well. Luckily for Portland, the trio came back out for an encore that included two songs from their very first release: the 1984 EP Remission. The first of these was “Far Too Frail”, another signature track that unfortunately does not get included in their setlists all too often, and their definitive closer “Smothered Hope”, surprisingly the only time thus far I’ve ever heard it live (it was not included during their last set in town).

Multi-instrumentalist/keyboardist cEvin Key, apparently noticing me. Photo by Yousef Hatlani.cEvin Key of Skinny Puppy, apparently noticing me. // Photo credit: Yousef Hatlani

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how important the visual facet to this show was; Skinny Puppy is an extremely visual band. Everything in the show, from costumes to projections to props, is typically interacted with to create a narrative. Perhaps not unlike the notion of the group’s 2004 reunion tour, the overall theme tonight was the threat of nuclear war, the US deficit and Big Brother. Ogre went through no less than four costume changes, beginning the show as a grim reaper-esque foreteller of nuclear winter and moving on to reveal himself as roadkill for a decent portion of the set. Later, he quickly maneuvered his way into a lab coat from behind the giant fallout shelter box, assuming the role of a government prisoner being subjected to an experiment. At the conclusion of their set, he was stuffed into said fallout shelter by two costumed stagehands and yanked away, reemerging during the encore unmasked in a tank top, boots and jeans as the fittest 50 year old I’ve ever seen: slender, energetic, graceful and focused. It prompted me to consider exercising again, because I don’t think I’ve ever looked that good in my whole life.

Touring drummer Justin Bennett. Photo by Yousef Hatlani.Touring drummer Justin Bennett // Photo credit: Yousef Hatlani.

Like many of the shows I’ve seen recently for Faces on the Radio of bands I grew up listening to – Pearl Jam, Nine Inch Nails, Phil Anselmo, et al. –  my apprehensions prior to the show about it falling flat or appearing tired were dashed as soon as the first note echoed throughout the venue. Skinny Puppy predates all of those aforementioned artists and has always rigorously exceeded fan’s expectations in the live setting, an invincible work ethic that has kept them going uninterruptedly since their 2004 reunion. With this discipline stronger than ever—even overcoming food poisoning to perform for us—and public interest at its apparent highest in recent memory, this just might have been the most vital time to see them since their reunion a decade ago, when I discovered them.

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The Tyranny of Distance: On Seeing Pixies Live

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Pixies (bass drum) // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

By Hollister Dixon // Photos by Yousef Hatlani

  1. I spent a decent amount of time deciding on a name for this review, and I realized that the best title possible was not by the Pixies, but by Ted Leo. The title has been stuck in my head for longer than I can remember at this point, and I think it says a lot about the band that the Pixies are: they are four people who managed to form one of the most important bands of the late 20th century, despite actively hating each other. In a phone interview included in the film loudQUIETloud: A Film About The Pixies (a film that documented the return of a band that’s return always seemed like a nice dream rather than a possibility), Frank Black, the cantankerous, screaming frontman of the group, said this of the relationship: “We don’t talk to each other that much, and not because we don’t like each other. It’s just the kind of people we are.”
  2. Let’s address the elephant in the room: people have a troubled relationship with the band at this point in time. The band have been reunited for a decade at this point, but have only released 10 songs, one of which was a deleted song from the Shrek 2 soundtrack, a Kim Deal lead number called “Bam Thwok”, which the setlist archiving site Setlist.FM says has only been played five times since the song’s release. None of these songs have been well-received, but it’s possible that the band’s checkered history in 2013 might help explain this. In June of last year, Kim Deal, the exuberant and incredible bassist of the band, left abruptly, for reasons that have yet to be completely explained. Pixies fans view Deal as an integral piece of the puzzle, providing the charisma the band sorely needs. At one point, guitarist Joey Santiago stated that the band mourned the loss of their long-time comrade for a scant three days, before chugging along with their new EP (simply titled EP1) with Muffs bassist Kim Shattuck – who was then replaced by Entrance Band/A Perfect Circle/Zwan bassist Paz Lenchantin late last year. Because of all of this, Pixies are viewed as the shell of what they used to be. This is unfairbut we’ll get to that soon.

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    Best Coast // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

  3. Before we progress, let’s talk about the show’s opener, Best Coast. I’ve been waiting a good long while to see Best Coast, and have been prevented from doing so by other obligations the night of every single show the group have played in Portland (most notably the VitaminWater Uncapped performance Best Coast did with up-and-coming hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar, which fell on the same night as a reunited Codeine). The unfortunate thing is, Bethany Cosentino and her group played to a very tough (and half empty) crowd, and their sound was lost to the corners and cracks of the Schnitz. Best Coast are a fantastic band, but they are one who’s sound is coated with a thick layer of grunge, and though that sound works in this space, their particular brand of it is better suited for nearly any other small-to-mid-sized venue in Portland. Had this show taken place at the Crystal Ballroom or the Roseland, they would have torn the roof off the place. It’s truly a shame, because they played their hearts out, sounded fantastic, and were clearly grateful to be opening for a band like Pixies.

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    Pixies // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

  4. The first three songs of the Pixies set were played perfectly, and served as a strange miniature history of the band, in only six minutes. Starting with the still pretty bizarre “Bone Machine”, followed by “Wave of Mutilation”, and then the classic “U-Mass” from the band’s final album, Tromp Le Monde. As someone who has been waiting to see the Pixies for as long as I can remember, the show could have ended right then and there and I would have been extremely happy.
  5. No matter how dubious the crowd was, those fears did not prevent everyone from rocking the fuck out. I’m not very familiar with the two EPs that have come out in the last six months, but it was always clear which songs were new by how the crowd reacted: if you looked around and only saw one or two people singing, it was a safe bet to assume that it was something new. As I consult the setlist, this appears to be entirely true. During other songs, those classic songs, like “Monkey Gone to Heaven” and “Where Is My Mind?”, the crowd went bananas. During the show’s final songs, “Vamos”, Joey Santiago spent a few minutes going ballistic on his guitar, milking every last ounce of love from the crows that possibly could by goofing off, as Frank Black stared and grinned. When the song finally concluded, the rare joy pouring out of Black was visible from anywhere in the room, especially as he wandered to the edge of the stage to high-five the fans. A friend of mine joked that, if Frank Black smiled that night, spring would come early. Considering just how happy he was there at the end, I’m surprised summer hasn’t come early.
  6. That joy was not the norm, though. And that was part of the bizarre spectacle, and it’s why I was driven to write this review in the way I have written it: the show was great, but it may not have been good. The band was on top of their game, enough that they blasted through 31 songs in just over an hour-and-a-half, never seeming to miss a beat. They managed to capture every nuance of every song, from the woozy stumbling of “Caribou” to the goofiness of “La La Love You” (featuring an equally crowd-milking David Lovering continuing his criminally underrated croon for a minute longer than usual, though it was all in good fun). Everything sounded like it did on those records, but maybe that’s the problem: in replicating the atmosphere of those songs, the band may have forgotten to put their hearts into it. It’s unfair to say that it was “phoned in”, but I don’t doubt that the argument could be made very well.

    Pixies // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

    Pixies // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

  7. A quick, brief note about Paz Lenchantin: she’s no Kim Deal, but absolutely nobody will every be Kim, not even Kelley Deal, her identical twin. I spent a few songs with my eyes closed, and if I lost myself in the music just enough, I could forget that it wasn’t her. But, then, it’s never that easy, is it? Deal was the strange, wonderful heart of Pixies, and even though Lenchantin did a great Deal impression, she could not manage to capture that which made her integral to the band. And that is absolutely not her fault.
  8. I keep going back and forth about what I thought of the show, and the truth is, I’m still somewhat unsure. So, I’ll break it down like this: as a whole, the show was fantastic, and it was everything that I wanted, and possibly a little more. I knew going in that I was going to be seeing a band that I love in a slightly weakened state, and got a band that was still incredibly intense, and powerful, and fun. But, that show could have been so much more if that ice-breaker moment, in which Joey Santiago played his guitar backwards, were one of the first moments of the show, and the band had spent 31 songs enjoying themselves and the impact they’ve had with (almost) each and every one of them. I would have been happier if I’d seen a band less marred by the tyranny of distance, and had let the crowd see them as something more than one of the world’s best, but most dysfunctional, bands. Pixies may never again be the band we expect them to be, but that does not change the fact that you should, above all, go see them and make up your own minds about them.
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LIVE: Phil Anselmo & the Illegals, Hawthorne Theater, Portland, OR

By Yousef Hatlani

Nostalgia is a many-faceted phenomenon; it is a place we sometimes visit as a means of inhabiting a certain headspace we may have lived in once, free of complications that both dampen spirits and highlight hardships in comparison. It can also serve as the very best reminder of how far we’ve come and what we’ve gleaned from the knowledge that we’ve inherited. In the case of Phil Anselmo, iconic frontman for Pantera – inarguably the greatest heavy metal band of the 90’s, and one of the most influential groups for the genre of all time, crossover champions Superjoint Ritual and Southern Sludge metal supergroup Down, the sheer power of this notion at the Hawthorne Theater last Saturday was as much a reminder of his timelessness as it was a prime showcase of Phil never standing in his own steam and constantly pushing his music in new, extreme directions.

Like many, I grew up listening to Pantera—although I never got the chance to see them, having spent my formative years in the Middle East (as such, I never really got to see any of my heavy metal heroes until I moved to Portland in 2006). Nonetheless, the amount of songs, videos, pictures, documentaries and tablature that I ingested made me feel close to it, not to mention the band’s devoted following that literally extends the world over; it wasn’t difficult finding friends in Bahrain who took to the Arlington, TX group’s singular humor, energy, musicianship and passion. My own band even included at least one of their songs in every setlist we came up with.

The band’s figurehead to many, of course, was vocalist Philip Hansen Anselmo (unless you were a guitar player, like myself, who looked up to dearly departed guitar hero Dimebag Darrell just as much). Throughout his career, Philip has constantly ventured into uncharted territories—putting his name and gruff nature to projects that have included Black Metal, Death Metal,  Spoken Word and a smorgasbord of other Metal sub-genres spawning from a myriad of collaborations. For his first ever solo album, Walk Through Exits Only, Anselmo brings this energy that we’ve come to know and draw from and has applied it to yet another new sound—an austere combination of odd time signatures, grindcore-infused riffing and guitar solos that Dime would surely approve of, delivered courtesy of class-act guitarist Marzi Montarezi. In the live setting, this approach is amplified and experienced in such a way that can only restore your faith in heavy metal once more (if you didn’t already). And so it was on January 18th at the Hawthorne Theater.

The first band on the bill that night was local Hardcore act Proven, who were completely indistinguishable from the audience members at the time in both appearance and musicianship. They were pretty forgettable, to say the least, as their music presented no unique touches and appeared to have consisted mostly of reworked Hatebreed riffs that the band has probably known for about ten years. Their singer also made sure to wear his Pantera cap and shirt for this occasion, reminding us rather obnoxiously between every single fucking song that Pantera is the greatest band of all time. Yeah. Okay. We get it. Moving on.

Hymns. Photo by Yousef Hatlani.Hymns // Photo: Yousef Hatlani

The next band up was Housecore Records’ own Hymns, an Avant-Garde metal group hailing from Fayetteville, AR. Their styling veered into Black Metal territory, but with plenty of Death Metal-y crunch to present what is ultimately a unique dynamic for a band that has only been around for a couple years. The band sounds fantastic on record, and their material was even more engaging live. Highly recommended.

Author & Punisher. Photo by Yousef Hatlani.Author & Punisher // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

Author & Punisher, the third band on the bill, was another one of the reasons I was pushing to go to this event; the one man act of Tristan Shone, A&P are one of the most visually and sonically unique ventures I’ve ever seen in my time with Faces On the Radio—and almost ever, for that matter. A mechanical engineer by day, Shone has built his instruments literally from the ground up by himself—inventing what I can best describe as a synth-drum-breathing-torture machine. His music blends an Industrial edge with processed vocals and claustrophobic atmospheres to create a sound that is distinctly inhuman but overwhelmingly powerful. This was the second time I’ve seen A&P, but it may as well have been the first—Shone’s music and stage show gets better every single time I see him, and Author & Punisher is an act you must see at least once before you die.

Finally, with anticipation built to the hilt, Phil Anselmo takes the stage with the rest of his bandmates—a group newly christened as “the Illegals,” donning a hoodie and that same unmistakable posture I’ve never forgotten from many hours of watching Pantera and Down videos growing up. After a brief intro, the band very unpredictably launched into the song “Hellbound”, the opening track from Pantera’s final studio album, Reinventing the Steel. Suffice it to say, this is kind of a deep cut, and I’m pretty sure it hasn’t been performed live in a very long time (and by the looks of it, rarely even on this tour). Needless to say, I am freaking out in the photo pit, jumping and singing along while still trying to maintain enough stability to get the right shot of one of my high school heroes.

Phil Anselmo. Photo by Yousef Hatlani.Phil Anselmo // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

From this point, the band plays a number of songs from the new album—the title track, “Betrayed”, “Usurper Bastard’s Rant”, “Irrelevant Walls and Computer Screens”, and “Bedridden” to name a few—and a few surprises peppered in, including Pantera’s Death Rattle (another cut from Reinventing the Steel), Superjoint Ritual’s “Fuck Your Enemy” and even an Arson Anthem tune, “Wrecked Like Clockwork.” Although I wasn’t very familiar with the majority of Phil’s new material prior to this show, any worries or concerns I had were immediately pummeled to the floor by the song’s abilities to fill the room with vigor and vitality. This is the kind of album that sounds even better live, for sure.

The climax of the show for many was the group’s encore, which began with a guitar solo by Montarezi backed by a slow, chugging rhythm that slowly evolved into the unforgettable outro to Pantera’s Domination and also transitioned into the aggressive, closing portion of their song Hollow, launching the crowd into a frenzy. Of course, the highlight for me (aside from ‘Hellbound’) was finally getting to hear Pantera’s classic track, “A New Level”, performed live—which the band closed with. Although the chaos ensuing in the audience was already out of control, this moment tipped the collective energy in the room overboard to a peak that had been previously unseen up until that point. And although I never got to see the classic four-piece play this song, it had to be close to what it felt like to actually do so.

Phil Anselmo. Photo by Yousef Hatlani.

Phil Anselmo // Photo Credit: Yousef Hatlani

When all was said and done, Phil came up and shook hands with fans (an imposing man at 6’1”, I had to reach pretty high to get his attention), happily accepting weed, CD’s and other merchandise from fans at every corner of the stage. I tried shouting as loudly as I could, “I’VE BEEN WAITING OVER TEN YEARS TO SEE YOU”—which is partially true, since although I have actually seen Phil twice before with Down, it’s been never this close and in such a small venue. Of course, he couldn’t hear me on top of the other screaming fans. And I didn’t fight it; this person I was literally looking up at hadn’t changed much in stature or influence to me since I discovered his music as an impressionable 15 year old. In that moment, I wanted to keep it that way—sort of like a perfectly lit picture that you keep forever, sometimes revisiting it to remind you of that headspace when you really need it.

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